Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Bearking the Marks of Christ: James Otis Sargent Huntington


What in the world would motivate someone to give up his possessions, his relationships, his independence, even his whole life to become a monk? Well, on this day (November 25) in 1885, James Otis Sargent Huntington did exactly that. Today is the anniversary of his entrance into monastic life, and we remember it not only because it is a remarkable thing for anyone to accept that religious discipline but also because of the distinct life and work that came out of that monastic profession.

Huntington was an S.O.B--a "son of a bishop"--and he was ordained an Episcopal priest when he was around 26 years old. Initially, his ministry was among some working-class immigrants of New York City, but that immersion into the lives of the working poor only grew throughout his life. Not long after he was ordained, Huntington felt the call to monastic life, but, of course, as an Episcopalian and not a Roman Catholic, the opportunities for being a monk or a nun were fairly limited. So what did Huntington do? He started his own order. The Order of the Holy Cross was formed, and its mother house is still open and active in West Park, New York. Closer to home, Huntington founded St. Andrew's School in Sewanee along with other religious institutions in this and other countries. On the whole, it seems, Huntington was able to do amazing work despite having limited personal financial resources with which to accomplish that work (Information from Wikipedia).

Ironically, there is a freedom that comes from giving up everything you have in the service of the Lord. Although most religious live in community with other monks and nuns, the worldly concerns that are shared within that community are miniscule when compared with our worries. As a monk, you don't have a family to take care of. You don't have physical needs to worry about. College tuition, vacation to Disney World, retirement savings--none of that is a direct burden felt by a religious. Those concerns are just taken care of. Sure, the order must take care of its members, and each person works for the good of the group, but there is a remarkable liberation that comes from making such a profession. As such, one gives up one's own life and becomes completely united to the Body of Christ.

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote, "May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." As a Christian, converted from a zealous adherence to Judaism, Paul claimed the cross of Christ as the only thing of value in his life and in this world. A prisoner for Christ, he gave up everything he had and devoted his life to the message of forgiveness, freedom, and salvation that the cross proclaims. Paul knew what it meant to let go of the troubles and concerns of the world to focus exclusively on the good news of Jesus. James Huntington, too, knew what it meant to seek a life unburdened by earthly needs. He sought that lift in a religious community so that he could devote every effort he had to carrying the good news to the poor. What about us? Is the cross of Christ that real to us?

Who's ready to become a monk or a nun? Of course, that call is given to some, but most of us answer Christ's call in other ways. We serve Christ as teachers, janitors, mothers, fathers, doctors, bankers, and cooks. But we must find a way to leave our earthly burdens behind so that we, too, might be set free to live fully for the gospel. In some ways, that's harder because we need to deal with things like college tuition and Disney World and retirement savings. Those things aren't going to go away. But we must keep them in the right perspective. We must find a way to know for ourselves what it means to "boast of [nothing] except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." We must know what it means to be "crucified to the world." We must let the power of the cross shape us just as clearly as it shaped Huntington and Paul. We must be willing to give up everything we have to follow Jesus. That may not come as a religious profession or a life-occupying missionary journey, but it will surely cost us just as much. Will we say yes?

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